In a statement, Facebook said the 783 accounts targeted users around the world, though most of them were located in the Middle East and South Asia. The accounts on Facebook and Instagram typically misrepresented themselves as locals in at least 26 countries, including the U.S., Israel, India, France, Germany, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
The company said the accounts’ activity was directed from Iran and in some cases repurposed content from Iranian state media about conflicts in Syria and Yemen. In all, the accounts spent about $30,000 on ads, paid for in U.S. or Canadian dollars, British pounds and euros.
“We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people,” Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a statement.
The social network uses the term “coordinated inauthentic behavior” fake accounts managed with the intent of disrupting politics and elections. Facebook has previously disclosed purges of accounts linked to groups in Burma, Bangladesh and Russia.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Facebook’s announcement was “welcome and important.”
“Transparency continues to be the most effective tool in combating the malign behavior of foreign adversaries who intend to mislead and divide the American public through social media,” Schiff said. “… , Facebook’s takedown of Iran-linked malign influence pages and accounts is further evidence that such deceptive campaigns are worldwide in ambition. This requires a level of vigilance about disinformation operations that we could not have predicted only a few years ago.”
The company said Twitter helped its investigation by sharing information about suspicious activity it found on its own service. The companies, along with others in the tech industry, have been cooperating more when it comes to such account takedowns by sharing information.
Such cooperation may help the companies avoid regulatory scrutiny by showing critics and lawmakers that they can set aside differences when it comes to battling outside threats that affect their users.